Oct. 17, 2012 - Issue #887: Dedfest
Possible water market causes concern among Alberta's municipalities
If you are like most people, you wake up in the morning, go to the bathroom, have a shower, and drink some coffee without ever thinking about the water that comes through your taps. But if you do stop to think about it, you'll realize that water is essential to every aspect of our life, from the food we eat to the health of our environment and economy.
Municipalities play a leadership role in many aspects of water management in Alberta. In recognition of this, the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) approved a set of municipal water policies at its annual convention on September 27. The policies include 26 recommendations that cover a wide range of issues, from safe drinking water to the need for the federal and provincial governments' financial support for vital infrastructure upgrades. The policy states that "municipalities are concerned that the current system does not do enough to incent wise water policy use or protect water for human health and the environment."
For this, provincial support is also necessary. At the AUMA convention, Environment Minister Diana McQueen confirmed that the province will soon consult Albertans on four issues of water policy: municipal water and waste water, hydraulic fracturing, lakes, and water management—which includes the controversial issue of establishing a province-wide market to buy and sell water licences. In the audience that day were mayors and councillors from across Alberta who are deeply concerned about the future of Alberta's water policy. Southern Albertans are particularly aware of the water challenges the province faces since the 2006 decision to close the already over-allocated South Saskatchewan River Basin (SSRB) to new licences. Since then, the only way for a town, business or farmer to get access to more water in the SSRB is to buy rights to water from an existing licence holder.
So, what's the problem with using a market to allocate water? It ties access to water with ability to pay for it. This creates a system where those with the deepest pockets can purchase access to water and those without adequate resources could be left high and dry. Currently, the city of Okotoks cannot grow any more as it is using almost all of its original water licence. As a result, the city is looking to purchase rights to the water it needs for its citizens from an existing licence holder. It is also important to recognize that there is a lot of money at stake here and that, behind the scenes, many well-connected people and the powers of corporate lobbying are actively pushing for the creation of a water market.
If we look at other jurisdictions, such as Australia, we find examples of where water markets have failed on many fronts, from environmental health to equitable access. A report recently released by Water Matters illustrates how in Australia, the water market is not preserving the health of rivers, and the government was forced to budget $8.9 billion to buy back their own water licences in an effort to maintain sufficient water flow in the rivers. The report, titled Moving Waters: Water Management Options to Achieve Social, Economic, and Environmental Goals, shows that Alberta's current water policy is not addressing the environmental crisis, as it does not put a priority on science-based in-stream flow needs required to maintain healthy rivers.
It's time we all wake up and smell the coffee, and realize that if we don't speak up, private interests will soon be controlling access to our water. It is very important for citizens to participate in the provincial government's water consultations, expected to begin in the coming months and to connect these consultations to the work that has already been done by groups like the AUMA.
To learn how to engage in the upcoming water consultations, join the Our Water is Not for Sale campaign at ourwaterisnotforsale.com
More stories in front »vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
Vue respects your privacy. We will not forward your personal information to any other organization except as required by law, and will use your e-mail address only to respond to your comments. We reserve the right to edit and remove comments for length, clarity and/or if they are illegal or inappropriate. Your email address is never shown to visitors to vueweekly.com. Read the whole policy at: http://vueweekly.com/privacy